SMARTNet is Cisco’s maintenance and support service that provides:
- Global 24 hour access to Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC)
- Access to online knowledge base, communities and tools
- Hardware replacement options, including 2-hour, 4-hour, and next business day
- Operating system software updates
- Smart, proactive diagnostics and real-time alerts on devices enabled with Smart Call Home
The story with this product is pretty similar to such services from other successful vendors – they started out invaluable but began to decrease in value and increase in cost as the manufacturer and products matured. The IT manager is in a tough position as they get constant pressure to lower operating costs yet will quickly become the bad man if key technology fails and cannot be recovered in a timely manner due to a lousy maintenance agreement and strategy.
There are competent (and incompetent) third-party providers out there that can provide third-party maintenance on Cisco gear for a fraction of the SMARTnet price. Frequently, this provider has duplicated some of Cisco’s support infrastructure such that they directly handle all calls, staff their own techs and engineers, and stock their own parts. They maintain their own SMARTnet agreement with Cisco and may escalate on their customer’s behalf in order to resolve technical problems.
Cisco, of course strongly discourages third-party maintenance, not wanting to share their sacred cash cow. They charge hefty “recertification” fees if you leave and come back, and they restrict use of software/firmware updates on devices that are not directly under a SMARTnet contract. Some IT managers have gotten around this limitation by keeping at least one of every class of product under SMARTnet to retain access to the software services and support. A friend and Cisco partner told me the other day that Cisco is starting to aggressively technically enforce their licensing policies with “activation procedures” built into newer versions of the software, much like Microsoft’s “Genuine Windows Advantage” technology. Thus the device would prevent updates/upgrades if it wasn’t specifically under a SMARTnet agreement.
I had intened to post something about this ever since I heard of this initiative. I was reminded upon reading some good insight on SmartNet from Frank Kobuszewski on Network World‘s Cisco Subnet blog: Are You Taking Advantage of SMARTnet? …or Is SMARTnet Taking Advantage of You?
Update: In a November 9th post on PacketPushers.net, Ethan Banks expresses some similar frustrations with “Cisco Makes It Harder to Download Bug-Free IOS“. Ethan, co-host of the Packet Pushers podcast, is a CCIE and true expert. Here he states “SmartNet contracts are one of the most poorly organized and administrated systems I’ve seen in the world of technology”. I have to agree … I think it even tops the Microsoft EA!